Tag Archives: Bari

Thoughts on Memphis Tipping

Anyone catch this gem in the Flyer? At Hit or Ms. we’re BIG tippers… jar at Cafe Eclectic counter, done. Bad service and infuriating experience, still 15%. Typical dinner without any extraordinary snafus, 22% at least.

However, this article just pisses us off. Yes, Memphians need to tip and be conscious of the fact that servers are paid squat. But, do we really need to be lectured by the restaurant owners, particularly the ones that pay their servers $2.13/hr?

And though there are some fair statements from some of the chefs (we’re talking to you, Wally Joe), our biggest complaint about this article is that Memphis has a reputation for terrible service! Excluding several of the high-end restaurants like Iris, Bari, Erling’s, and yes Houston’s, we’re regularly annoyed while dining out… Tugs, Majestic, Do… Having lived and eaten in cities all over the country, sadly Memphis service just isn’t up to speed.

Case #1: Grace: Perhaps we’ll touch on this more at a later point, but Hit or Ms. had an awful experience at this “fine” dining restaurant. Going in on a Tuesday night with only three other tables occupied, our meal unnecessarily took 2.5 hours, the table seated after us received all their courses before we did (both tables had two diners) and the Chef was too busy hanging items in his kitchen to grace us with a “hello, thanks for dining in my brand new restaurant and spending a lot of money for a Tuesday night”. Yet, our dear server received a fantastic tip, despite this awfulness.

Case #2: Tugs on Mud Island: Without fail, every single time we eat at this restaurant, the order or check is messed up. Yet, we won’t penalize the poor server who can’t do addition… we just suck it up and tip.

Case #3: Carmela’s: In theory, this could be a charming lunch spot. It’s the type of place where you order at the counter and they bring it out to you. We popped in on a Saturday morning when it was fairly empty. Short story– the order took forever (it was just a panini), and it came out wrong. Admittedly, this may have been the kitchen’s fault, but no one was in the restaurant when the order was placed, so more aggravation resulted. Disclaimer: we’ve only been to this restaurant once, so we’d definitely be willing to give it another shot.

Bottom line, we will continue to tip because we realize how important it is for these waiters’ income. And, we will continue to support local restaurants because hey, the food usually rocks. However restaurant industry, listen up! Please don’t preach about tipping appropriately if your servers consistently provide bad service… train them better and hold them to these high standards. Then, when the service is top notch in MOST Memphis restaurants, Hit or Ms. will totally support a tipping manifesto.

What are your thoughts, dear readers? Sorry we’ve been MIA…

Hey, Big Spender

An insider’s guide to tipping.


One of my favorite things is the restaurant receipt that has the 15 percent, 18 percent, and 20 percent tip amounts printed on the bottom. It provides a quick and easy way to figure out exactly how much to tip. On the other hand, I’m not so fond of the gray area surrounding counter service and their leering tip jars. I always wonder how much I should tip, if at all. To get a handle on what’s appropriate, I talked to some restaurant insiders and frequent diners.

It’s no secret that people who have worked in the restaurant business are usually the best tippers. Margot McNeeley, the executive director of Project Green Fork, has waited tables and tended bar. “It’s not easy work,” she says. “I almost always tip 20 percent, if not more, unless the server is rude. If they’re in the weeds and super busy but nice about not being as attentive, I still tip well.”

Stephen Hassinger, the innkeeper at the Inn at Hunt Phelan, is also a chef with many years of restaurant experience. “Me, I tip everybody,” he says. This includes the dry cleaner ($10 every once in a while), the guy at the car wash who wipes the rims ($3 to $5), and the barista ($1 every time and $3 to $5 sometimes). “Basically anyone who performs any kind of service, I tip $1 to $20 depending on how much work it is and whether I plan on returning,” he says.

Hassinger believes that once you add some decent gratuity, that person will remember you and how you like your coffee or whether you like medium or light starch in your shirts … whatever. “As a rule, over-tip in the beginning, and you will receive good service from that point on,” he advises.

Ken Lumpkin, the chef/owner of Umai, wants people to understand that servers get paid very little and survive on tips. (The norm for servers’ wages is $2.13 per hour.) “I know that 15 percent is the standard, but it has not kept up with the increased cost of living,” Lumpkin says. “Tipping should start at 18 percent.”

He agrees that receiving poor service is cause for a smaller tip but suggests that diners take into consideration whether or not it was a server’s error or someone else’s. “Servers have to deal with backed-up kitchens, angry cooks, angry patrons, running out of supplies, co-workers’ attitudes, etc.,” he says, suggesting that if a patron is dissatisfied, it’s better to alert the manager to the problems instead of stiffing the wait staff.

Ben Vaughn is the chef/owner of Grace Restaurant, which offers fine dining. He says that 18 percent is the average tip. However, Wally Joe, the chef at the Brushmark, says that 20 percent should be the standard for fine dining. “Service is more refined, and extra attention is required and expected,” he says, noting that there may be small touches such as tableside serving of sauces and beverages. “A server should also have full knowledge of the menu and wine list,” he adds.

Joe is very outspoken when it comes to counter service and says that tip jars really annoy him. What am I suppose to tip them on? Handing me my order that they are paid to do? That requires no effort at all,” he says, equating it to a clerk handing him a pack of gum at a convenience store.

Helario “Harry” Reyna, who owns Elliott’s, a sandwich and burger joint downtown, says the standard tip for counter and pick-up orders is 10 percent. Elliott’s has never had a tip jar, but patrons may choose to leave a tip on the table. When Reyna was part-owner of Kwik Chek on Madison, they had a tip jar and split the tips. “That’s how I started a savings account for my daughter,” he says.

Elizabeth Blondis, part-owner of Central BBQ, recommends 5 to 10 percent for counter service and to-go orders. The tips are put into a pool for all employees and divided based on total hours. “That way, everyone — from the prep cook to the busser and everyone in between — shares in the rewards of doing a good job and working as a team,” she says. Blondis notes that no one at Central is paid less than minimum wage (most are paid more), but the additional tips can add up to an extra 50 cents to $1 per hour for employees.

Vaughn says that the staff at Au Fond, his market and cafe adjacent to Grace which offers counter service, is paid a higher rate than the wait staff at Grace. “It’s a nice thing to leave a buck or two to the guys and girls cleaning up and working their butts off, but it’s not expected,” he says.

Gary Bridgman, a former waiter who “carried trayloads of plates/drinks and tracked customer satisfaction throughout the meal,” says he has to be impressed before giving a counter tip higher than a quarter. “I’m more likely to slip a dollar under a dirty dish/tray if I’m not expected to bus my own table,” he says.

It’s important to consider whether your to-go order is being packed up by counter staff making minimum wage or by wait staff making $2.13 an hour. Former restaurant staffer Lauri Smith points out that to-go orders were included in her total amount of sales that she had to pay taxes on. In other words, the server has to pay tax on it whether you tip or not. If the restaurants do not report it accurately, the restaurant and the wait staff get audited by the IRS.

“The people putting together to-go orders [in restaurants] almost always get ripped off,” McNeeley says. “Think about this: They take time, sometimes away from their stations, to put the order together, check it, bag it, ring it up.” Tipping at least a few bucks on to-go orders should be required in her opinion. At the very least, it is always appreciated.

So what about alcohol? Joe does disagree with his servers when it comes to tipping on wine. “I’m probably not going to make any friends among servers for saying this, but there is a feeling that they deserve to be fully tipped 20 percent on expensive bottles of wine,” he says. Joe explains that whether the bottle of wine costs $200 or $30, the work is the same.

Ben Carter, author of the popular blog Benito’s Wine Reviews, says wine should be tipped 20 percent just like everything else. “The only time this becomes a real issue or argument is when you’re spending $500-plus on wine at a single dinner. And even then, there’s a big difference between 10 $50 bottles and one $500 bottle,” he says. The former is going to involve a lot of work and glasses and surely deserves 20 percent, in his opinion, and for the latter, he believes 10 percent might be appropriate without throwing off the overall balance of the bill.

At a bar, 20 percent is always safe, according to Wes Fowinkle, who has been bartending for over 10 years, most recently at the Cove. He prefers 20 percent to the generic “$1 per drink” rule. “If someone orders the most complicated, expensive drink on the menu that takes five minutes to prepare, keeping you from selling five quick beers, you made $1 instead of $5,” he explains. Fowinkle offers some advice for math-challenged and/or multi-drink imbibers who don’t have the luxury of a receipt with tip suggestions: “The easiest way to figure out 20 percent at the end of a night is to divide your tab by 10, then multiply by two.” (This trick works in restaurants too, any time of day.)

When it comes down to it, customers need to be aware of the nuances involved in the restaurant business and what constitutes good service. Hassinger sums it up: “Employees who work for tips appreciate someone who appreciates them.”

Tipping Cheat Sheet

Fine dining: 20 percent

Casual dining: 18-20 percent

Counter service: 0-10 percent

To-go orders in restaurants: 10 percent

Alcohol (including beer and wine): 20 percent

Really expensive bottles of wine ($500+): 10 percent


Sekisui Pacific Rim: Sink or Swim?

So on to our first review…

The Tuesday before Christmas, a group of us decided to pop into Sekisui Pacific Rim before the city went on hiatus for the holiday.

Restaurant Background

As you may or may not know, Pacific Rim is a part of the Jimmy Ishii empire that includes Sekisui locations around the Mid-South, BARI, Dish and blue fin. Technically, Pacific Rim and Sekisui constitute a chain; however, it’s local, so Hit or Ms. is on board.

Anyway, the Pacific Rim in Memphis has been open for close to 10 years. Through several concept and menu revamps, this Japanese spot has become a hangout for those looking for fresh sushi in East Memphis in an environment that’s not your traditional sushi house (think dimly lit with neon, flat screen TVs and a hip vibe perfect for a sake fueled birthday party).


For this specific Pacific Rim experience, our table started with two yummy appetizers: a special that night of Pork and Sweet Potato Egg Rolls served with a sweet dipping sauce (similar to duck sauce) and Fried Pork Dumplings ($5.95).

Both apps were wolfed down and determined to be amazing by my dining companions. I mean honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with fried food. However, the sweet potato egg rolls lacked a distinct sweet potato flavor.

Another option is the Ocean Pyramid ($9.95) if the fish is fresh (see below). Though no one ordered it this time, it consists of layers of salmon, yellow tail and tuna sashimi with flying fish roe, avocado, sushi rice and a sesame vinaigrette. Overall, it’s a very cool texture combo with an even neater presentation. This use to be one of my favorites to order until it became unreliable: i.e. fresh one time and “fishy” the next. So, I stuck with a cooked appetizer this go-around.

For our next course, we ordered salads: the signature Ginger House Salad with Jumbo Lump Crab Meat (small $4.95 / large $8.95) and the Wakame Seaweed Salad with Seared White Tuna ($4.95). Both salads lived up to their description and were perfect precursors to our sushi extravaganza (more on that below). Fyi, the Ginger Salad is a staple item at all of Jimmy Ishii’s Japanese restaurants (luckily!) and typically very consistent. I rarely visit any of his spots and not order this salad— it’s a must-have!

The Seaweed Salad was also a pleasant surprise. Given the option of several toppings (Squid, Seared White Tuna, Octopus, Salmon Skin, Crabstick and Shrimp), one of my co-eaters ordered the Seared White Tuna. It came served over thinly sliced cucumbers in a slightly vinegar-y, soy based dressing.

For our main course, we chose a huge assortment of sushi. A full list of our sushi order is below, but first, a few comments on the sushi choices. For one, sometimes it’s hard to find “healthier” roll selections at Pacific Rim or really any of the Sekisui restaurants. Most of the rolls have something fried in them or mayonnaise incorporated, so beware if dieting is a concern. The good news is that you can always order Nigiri or Sashimi to try to bypass this situation.

Second, during this visit, the fish was very fresh. However, after several failed experiences over the years, I can honestly say it is hit or miss if you prefer raw sushi vs. cooked rolls. Consistency definitely varies on this front. There’s no hard evidence, but with Pacific Rim and usually the other Sekisui restaurants, the fish tends to be fresher towards the end of the week, Wed – Sat. Unfortunately we aren’t a coastal town, and you can sometimes taste the difference if raw sushi is your preference (mine). So, to be on the safe side, I’ll usually skip raw rolls earlier in the week or ask what’s fresh for the day.

As for this enormous sushi platter, the entire table LOVED all the rolls:

–          The Firebird ($9.95): Crunch Crab, Sweet Chili Sauce topped with Tempura Shrimp and Thai Sauce. A flavorful combo that relies on the fried components.

–          The Jimmy Walker “Dyn-O-Mite” ($7.50): Avocado, Cucumber, Assorted Fish with Wasabi Roe. A healthier option due to the lack of anything fried or mayo. I’m a big fan of Wasabi Roe (caviar flavored with wasabi).  However, in comparison to the flavor of the fried rolls, it’s a bit bland. I recommend ordering with other healthier options to fully appreciate the flavors.

–          The Pacific Rim ($9.95): Crunchy Crab and Shrimp topped with Tuna, Salmon, White Fish and Sweet Chili Sauce. The favorite of the raw fish eaters at the table. The sauce complements the roll and the crunch contrasts nicely with the variety of fish on top. I highly recommend ordering!

–          The Crunchy Shrimp ($5.50): Self explanatory with Cucumber.  A safe, but boring option. Nothing to write home about.

–          The Shiitake Mushroom ($3.95): Simple, but delicious when paired with wasabi and soy sauce. Added bonus, a nice, cheap option!

–          The Volcano ($7.50): Tempura California Roll with Spicy Sauce* A traditional California Roll, ENTIRELY FRIED. It’s as unhealthy as it sounds, but well worth the splurge.

*not pictured

Believe it or not, one person in our party had room for dessert after this massive amount of food! He ordered red bean ice cream and was a very happy camper. I seem to only find red bean and green tea ice cream in the Asian restaurants around town and not at any of our grocery stores, so if I could have fit anything else in my stomach, I would have indulged. If you are able to plan better than me, I definitely recommend trying one of these flavors. AND, if you know somewhere in the city that sells these ice cream flavors for couch consumption, definitely let me know!!


Pacific Rim has an admirable beer list, and I was impressed by the beer special, Hitachino Nest Beer.

Sadly, my dining companion didn’t love it and unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling too hot that night, so I wasn’t able to personally sample.


Overall, the service was fine. You can tell there aren’t nearly enough servers on the floor to adequately handle all the tables. I was the first to arrive for the dinner and decided to go ahead and sit down. Initially, the service was not super prompt, and I sat by myself for a solid 5-10 before I flagged someone down to ask for a  drink. Aside from that, all courses were spaced well and our server was attentive, once the restaurant calmed down a bit.

So should you go?

Pacific Rim is a HIT. Consistency is definitely something they need to work on as far as food and service go. However, you know you can always get a satisfying dish (with the Ginger Salad, cooked sushi and the appetizers), as well as a good beer, which are two major pluses in my book. So if you haven’t been into Pacific Rim at all or even for a while, go visit this month after you ring in 2010!


Quick side note: As we mentioned in our initial post, we are not professional restaurant critics, nor do we have any formal culinary training. These write-ups are just our personal experiences that will usually focus on one specific meal at the restaurant, though we may reference previous times in these eateries.